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Cooling the Climate Models: Briggs, Legates, Monckton, Soon Go Simple

By Sterling Burnett -- February 9, 2015

“Each of the complex climate models used by the IPCC grossly overstates the amount of warming the planet has experienced during the past 120 or so years. In addition, based on the idea that temperatures should rise right along with CO2 emissions, these models have missed the entire 18+ year hiatus in rising temperatures.”

In early January, the noted science journal Science Bulletin published a paper by Lord Christopher Monckton; Astrophysicist Willie Soon, Ph.D.: climatologist and geologist David Legates, Ph.D.; and statistician William Briggs, “Why Models Run Hot: Results from an Irreducibly Simple Climate Model,” which introduced a new, simple model of the climate’s response to adding CO2 to the atmosphere.  Their model outperformed the complex climate models used by the IPCC to project future temperatures and temperature trends.

Each of the complex climate models used by the IPCC grossly overstates the amount of warming the planet has experienced during the past 120 or so years. In addition, based on the idea that temperatures should rise right along with CO2 emissions, these models have missed the entire 18+ year hiatus in rising temperatures.

Monckton et al. argue that complex climate models get temperature readings wrong for two main reasons. First, complex models overestimate the strength of the feedback mechanisms built into the climate in response to rising CO2 concentrations. Second, the amplification or feedback mechanisms modelers build into the models are wrong entirely – in the real world, the mechanism doesn’t exist or doesn’t function as the modelers suppose.

Monckton Speaks

As Monckton puts it,

The errors of the enormously complex climate models are attributable to a well-kept secret: Doubling atmospheric CO2 concentrations should result in an average global warming of just 1 degree Celsius, and possibly less than half that, but climate modelers erroneously assume “temperature feedbacks”—climatic changes triggered by a direct warming such as from CO2—triple warming. Without the assumed tripling, there is no climate problem.

Ice cores show over 800,000 years the absolute mean global temperature has probably varied by little more than 1 percent (or just 3 Cº) either side of the long-run average. This remarkable thermostasis suggests a small increase in global temperature cannot trigger a far larger increase driven by feedbacks. It is more likely temperature feedbacks attenuate the trivial direct warming caused by our sins of emission.

Models calculate the mutual amplification of distinct temperature feedbacks using a World War II equation from electronic circuit design that is inapplicable to the climate. The misconceived use of this equation is the main reason for scientists’ wild forecasts of 3, 5, or even 10 Cº global warming in response to doubling the CO2 in the air.

In modern conditions the overwhelming thermostatic influence of the two giant atmospheric heat-sinks—the oceans and outer space—dampens the already small direct warming from a doubling of CO2.

Mirroring the critiques made by Monckton, Soon, Legates and Brigg concerning the failures of complex models, Miroslav Kutilek, Emeritus Professor at Czech Technical University in Prague, said:

The results from complex computer models in common use do not agree with observations of reality. They lack validity because, when tested, they do not reflect well the climates of the past. In addition they seem to underestimate some forcing factors and while overestimating others. The complex models also miss entirely long-term processes, large scale, primary oceanic processes that drive regional climate. 

‘Pocket’ Model Getting Attention

The Science Bulletin article has gotten a great deal of coverage in the popular media, on science blogs, and within scientific circles. For instance, Physics.org ran an article on the Science Bulletin paper, “Peer-reviewed pocket-calculator climate model exposes serious errors in complex computer models.” The Daily Mail and the Christian Post, and the popular climate blog Watts Up With That among others gave positive coverage to the journal article as well.

Concerning the paper’s popularity, Monckton notes: “The paper has been downloaded more than 3600 times from the Science Bulletin’s website – an almost unheard-of number for a scientific paper, and accounting for five-sixths of all downloads of full-length scientific papers in the January 2015 issue of Science Bulletin.”

Critics Miss the Point

Monckton’s article was not well-received by everyone. In particular, climate alarmists with a vested interest in stoking public fear and thus encouraging government action to control the global economy and individuals lives and lifestyles, have come out of the woodwork to blast the article and its authors.

While their criticisms take a number of forms, two modes of attack dominate: ad hominem and evading the questions raised by the Science Bulletin paper.

Concerning the former, outlets I normally consider to be legitimate news sources have tossed their journalistic ethics aside in an effort to smear Monckton and his colleagues. For instance, the Boston Globe went after co-author Willie Soon hinting that he violated the journal’s disclosure rules for conflicts-of-interest. To back its claim, the Globe quoted the head of a small-time, environmental lobbying organization who accused Soon of malfeasance.

Everyone knows Soon is a skeptic, as any good scientist should be. He just happens to be a skeptic on the wrong issue according to environmental radicals: global warming. His research, done as a staff member of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has received support from a variety of sources including fossil fuel interests and conservative think-tanks. However, no one has shown some cabal of evil interested parties funded the particular research resulting in this journal article.

This line of attack on the Science Bulletin paper is classic misdirection and ad hominem. When you can’t successfully oppose the logic and conclusion of argument, attack the character of those making it. The article stands or falls based on the testable research regardless of how the authors make their living. Money received years and decades ago for different climate projects has nothing to do with this paper.

If money is necessarily corrupting, then no climate scientist is untainted and all climate research is suspect. Climate researchers all over the globe–whether affiliated with universities, private labs, or environmental groups–get money from a variety of interested parties, including governments, liberal foundations and wacko billionaires like Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, who for reasons of personal gain or simple paternalism want to expand their dominance of peoples’ lives. They want to tell everyone else how to live (Government’s and politicians being the worst paternalistic offenders).

Yellow Journalism: ClimateWire

Sadly, a news source I regularly use as a basis for further research, Environment and Energy News, displayed the worst form of yellow journalism in their coverage of the Science Bulletin paper.

In the very first sentence, the grossly pejorative term “deniers,” was used to refer to Monckton and his colleagues. The term ‘deniers’ is liberally bandied about by true believers in the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change as a way to stifle debate by linking skepticism about the causes and consequences of the ongoing climate shifts, to those who illegitimately deny the Holocaust happened. Even Joe Romm at Climate Progress, in one his more balanced moments, decried the use of this term.

Besides just being offensive and having no place in civilized discourse concerning a matter of scientific debate, there are a number of major problems with this comparison. First, the Holocaust provably occurred, but the vast majority of the temperature projections, and predictions of harm from climate change, are not happening, and may never occur – rather they are based on unvalidated models.

Second, none of the authors involved, as far as anyone has shown, denies the climate has, is and will change. They all accept climate change as a fact. Rather they simply questionthe extent to which human activities are influencing present climate changes and whether a general warming of the climate will spell catastrophe for humans, other species, or the planet as a whole.

If the above three deny anything, it is the “science is settled;” there is no certainty about the causes and consequences of climate change. Since there are more open questions than firm answers concerning climate change, Monckton and his co-authors are right to keep an open mind about global warming.

In short, E&E News should not post an editorial and try and pass it off as straight news.

Concerning the use of the term “deniers” to label skeptics, Laurence Gould, University of Hartford Professor of Physics, said, “Much has been made about the use of the term “denier(s),” to describe Monckton and his co-authors. I have been branded with this term for my work. The question is, what could the term mean?”

“It might mean that someone knows the facts and is evading them. Or it might mean that someone considers that the facts do not support the claims being made. Since, as Lord Monckton and I have both showed, there is clearly insufficient evidence for, as well as much contradictory evidence to, the anthropogenic global warming alarmist (AGWA) claims, we would seem to fall into the second category. Thus applied, though I can’t speak for Monckton or his colleagues, I do not consider the term “denier” to be pejorative even though it appears intended to be so when used by the AGWAs,” said Gould.

Scientists’ ‘Simple’ Critique

Leaving aside ad hominem attacks on the Science Bulletin paper, much of the scientific response has shown a bull-headed clinging to obviously flawed models despite the measurable facts contradicting them. The Carbon Brief’s Factcheck quotes a number of scientific critics of the Monckton et al paper. Their criticisms seem exceedingly weak to me.

In particular, they criticize the model developed my Monckton, Soon, Legates and Briggs, for its simplicity. In the article, one critic after another is quoted claiming the simple model used by Monckton et al., is flawed. Why? Because it is simple, it doesn’t build in the complex forcings, amplifications and feedback mechanisms used by the complex models the IPCC.

But, of course, that’s just the point at issue. The Bulletin article argues the complex models don’t work and cites actually temperature data and trends to prove it. Then it shows how their simple model, sans speculative amplification mechanisms, comes closer to the mark in tracking temperature trends. Saying a simple model is wrong because it is simple, and complex models are better because they are complex, is just circular reasoning.

The critics argue the simple model doesn’t account for the heat being taken up by the oceans, but the argument the nearly decade long pause in temperatures is due to the ocean absorbing the excess heat, is just one of dozens of unproven, ideas or theories thrown out by climate alarmists in machine gun fashion to direct attention away from the fact the complex models they promote, can’t account for and do not reflect the present warming hiatus.

One critic claims the simple model fails to account for robust observations concerning the amplifying effect water vapor has on climate. However, the effect of water vapor on climate is not at issue; it’s the effect of rising CO2, and its effect on water vapor and other possible factors that the authors’ claim complex climate models get wrong.

Increased water vapor may affect climate for good or for bad – it depends upon a host of other geographic, geologic and large scale and regional climate factors — but that doesn’t mean increased CO2 levels increase water vapor in a manner dangerously raising global temperatures resulting in harmful changes to regional climates. It is this very kind of purported feedback mechanism Monckton and friends challenging.

Defending the Simple Model

Don’t think that scientific criticism of the Science Bulletin paper has been universal. Indeed, a number scientist have come to the defense of the paper. For instance, ecosystem modeler David Stockwell, Ph.D., said:

The article by Monckton et al. shows with a conventional analysis that very low temperature sensitivity to CO2 doubling explains the available evidence much better than high sensitivity, and gives good examples of statistical biases underlying the IPCC claims, such as quoting the mid-point of a distribution that is highly skewed towards the low end of climate sensitivities.

Engineer and Executive Director, International Climate Science Coalition, Tom Harris said, “The Carbon Brief, a UK-based publication sponsored by the European Climate Foundation, reports scientists labeling the simple model employed by Monckton et al as ‘meaningless’ and ‘simply physically implausible’.”

“But the new model comes far closer to actual temperature trends than do the complicated models held dear by climate alarmists,” continued Harris.

It is therefore obvious that the simple model is far more useful for making meaningful future projections than are those employed by the IPCC. More scientists should question climate science doctrine, especially the magnitude of feedbacks that influence direct warming by greenhouse gas emissions. Are they really as high as the IPCC asserts, or are in fact negative, as suggested in the new paper?

Brian Valentine, an engineer with the U.S. Department of Energy and scientific reviewer and consultant to the department’s Office of Science for DOE National Laboratory-directed programs in computing, chemical, and climate science, argued, “If about 100 million years of discernable and unequivocal Earthly climate evidence has demonstrated that the ‘climate sensitivity to the doubling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere’ cannot be any higher than the value of this quantity described by Monckton et al., then how much more evidence to we need?”

Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, past president of the American Association of State Climatologists, research professor of Environmental Sciences at University of Virginia and former IPCC reviewer, noted:

Since 2011, the refereed literature contains at least 14 studies detailing 20 experiments by 45 scientists, all demonstrating that the sensitivity of temperature to a doubling of carbon dioxide is considerably less than what is in the ensemble of the UN’s climate models. Monckton et al.., simply contributes to this growing paradigm.

The debate has been expanded by Lord Christopher Monckton, Willie Soon, Ph.D., David Legates, and William Briggs. Their work should be applauded and improved upon, not dismissed with ad hominem. Climate science is far too unsettled for that.


Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is Research Fellow, Center for Climate and Environmental Policy, Heartland Institute where he is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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